What the new ProPublica/Texas Tribune partnership means for collaborative journalism

Spoiler: A LOT!

Stefanie Murray
Oct 17 · 4 min read

This week, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune announced that they’ve joined forces to establish an ongoing, permanent investigative reporting group.

The co-branded, co-managed entity will bring the heavy-hitting investigative prowess of ProPublica together with the deeply sourced and renowned newsroom of The Texas Tribune.

The marriage makes sense: ProPublica is the country’s most successful national news nonprofit, and the Tribune is the country’s most successful statewide news nonprofit.

Yet the partnership is unprecedented, and it makes a major milestone in the development of collaborative journalism.

I see three reasons why.

1. It shows what a commitment to collaboration can result in.

Over the last decade, we’ve seen a rise in the use of collaboration as a tactic for news organizations to produce journalism they otherwise couldn’t do on their own. Many of these efforts have been collaborative reporting projects — often one-time, temporary efforts where news orgs partner to cover a specific topic or a specific event at a specific time.

This is what ProPublica has been a leader in; it has initiated and participated in dozens of these kind of collaborative reporting projects over the last decade. It has done such projects with The Texas Tribune, also a leader when it comes to collaboration.

ProPublica and the Tribune’s collaborative work most notably includes an award-winning 2016 joint effort to look at what a catastrophic hurricane could do to Houston, called “Hell and High Water.” That multi-part series (with some incredible digital interactive elements) ended up being prophetic, as it published the year before Hurricane Harvey hit. “Hell and High Water” led to another co-produced series, “Boomtown, Flood Town.”

The relationships those two organizations formed over the years by working together — the trust that gets built, the muscle memory that forms by doing collaborative reporting projects — no doubt was a major factor in the creation of this new permanent partnership.

This is happening elsewhere in the U.S., too, as relationships developed through work on collaborative reporting projects turn into ongoing, long-term collaboratives.

Another local example of this is Resolve Philadelphia, which grew out of The Re-Entry Project.

2. It marks a funding milestone.

The new investigative unit starts with a five-year commitment totaling around $8.5 million. Worded another way, that’s $8.5 million dedicated to supporting a sustained collaborative reporting effort, which will last at least five years. Likely more.

I don’t know of any other collaborative reporting effort in the U.S. that has started off with such an impressive commitment of time and money outside of the excellent work that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting has done to support its many regional collaboratives around the country.

That kind of support is — I hope — prophetic of more to come. Granted, not everyone has an Evan Smith in their backyard to lead such fundraising. But we’re seeing more local funders around the country express interest in funding media, and funding collaborative efforts is an impactful and often palatable way to do that.

3. It will be a model for others.

Many of us who work in journalism have been trying to figure out what true and equitable national-to-local partnership looks like over the last several years. (My Center studied this a few years back, under the direction of Tim Griggs, himself a Tribune alumnus.) There are many experiments under way around the country, but when it comes to a model that is likely to work and be lasting, sustainable and impactful, this one is probably it.

That’s because it addresses a gap (statehouse and statewide investigative work) and is a simple and equitable partnership (two organizations, co-branding, each of whom will hire roughly half of the staff) that’s supported by local fundraising (Houston-based Arnold Venture is providing the first $5.75 million).

As more national and local news organizations look for ways to team up, this will be a model to follow.

Want to learn more about collaborative journalism? You can subscribe to our collaborative journalism newsletter for more updates and information. And of course, we invite you to visit collaborativejournalism.org to learn more about the topic of collaborative journalism — including our growing database of collaborative journalism projects, which is currently being updated.

Stefanie Murray is director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. Contact her at murrayst@montclair.edu or find her on Twitter at @StefanieMurray.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with funding from Montclair State University, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, the New Jersey Local News Lab (a partnership of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, and Community Foundation of New Jersey), and the Abrams Foundation. For more information, visit CenterforCooperativeMedia.org.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair State University

Stefanie Murray

Written by

Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.

Center for Cooperative Media

An initiative of the School of Communication at Montclair State University